Many fear Hmong culture is fading away


A box of red, white and blue cupcakes is set on the table. In broken English and heavy accents the group of Hmong elders at the Hmong American Partnership sing “Happy 73rd Birthday” to Kia Vang.

The Twin Cities become a more diverse metropolis every day. The 15 students who participated in ThreeSixty’s Intermediate Journalism camp in June reflect that change themselves. And they investigated it, sifting through the layers of immigrants’ influence on the Twin Cities like prospectors mining for golden nuggets, and emerged from camp rich with intriguing stories.

Since arriving in the U.S in the 1970s the Hmong have attempted to adapt to western culture. They have encouraged the younger generation to learn English, go to college and even run for political office.

But at the same time, some fear that their traditions are fading away with each generation.

Seated with her friends, Kia Vang said she is happy about opportunities for education in America – especially for women. But she worries that young people are forgetting their language and traditions.

“We wish that America accommodated to our traditions but we like the American way of doing things … It’s simpler,” the woman said through an interpreter.

The Hmong came to the United States as refugees from Thailand, Laos and China after the Vietnam War. Roughly 180,000 Hmong live mostly in California, Wisconsin and Minnesota. About 27,000 Hmong live in Minnesota, with the vast majority in the Twin Cities.


In Laos, people had very low education levels, and girls were not permitted to go to school. Men were the leaders; women stayed home, were more submissive and had almost no authority. Bao Vang, executive director of the Hmong American Partnership, said she was not allowed to go to school as a child in her homeland, but her brothers could.

But now, America has blurred the lines of possibilities for Hmong men and women, said Ka Vang, diversity programs director for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.

Hmong women are going to school, getting jobs and heading toward careers. Some men stay home to take care of the children and don’t have the leadership roles they had in their homeland. Hmong parents are now pushing education on all of their children so they can have a better life here.

State Sen. Mee Moua, DFL-St. Paul, came to United States from Laos when she was nine. Trained in public policy and law, Moua is the nation’s first Hmong-American legislator.

Moua described her parents as “traditional but very liberal.”

“[They] made sure children knew the food and language [of their culture]…” Moua said. “[They] had a preference to keep culture in the family but [have been] growing more into the American lifestyle.”

Her parents pushed her to pursue high education as a child, but did not expect for her to become a senator.

However, the elders and youth of the Hmong community feel that the more Americanized the people become, the more their culture is dying.

“The longer you live here, a piece of your culture will die,” Bao Vang said.

Hmong traditions include eating rice, vegetables and meat at every meal. Weddings are elaborate, three-day celebrations with dowries and ethnic gifts. Funerals are three-day ceremonies with animal sacrifices and prayers to ancestors.

Some of the elders at the Hmong American Partnership said it’s not as easy to maintain these rituals and traditions now that the Hmong live in America. For example, some families must get traditional Hmong clothing from Thailand or Laos for various celebrations or rituals.

Aprill Moua, 17 and a senior at Arlington High School in St. Paul, is very adamant about making sure that she keeps Hmong culture and traditions.

“I’m so scared that my culture is dying,” Moua said. “If I don’t keep up with my culture it’s all going to die.”

Moua, an honors student, said she loves being a Hmong woman, but at the same time, she doesn’t let that get in the way of new opportunities America has to offer, including college.

She said she feels pressure to keep up with Hmong traditions. She is active in the community, attends weddings and funerals, and knows how to cook traditional foods. She speaks English and Hmong, but chooses to speak Hmong at every opportunity whether it’s at home, school or with other Hmong friends.

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19 thoughts on “Many fear Hmong culture is fading away

  1. Like every other cultures that had been here; like they we (hmoob) also will adpt to our host country, that beening lossing all or some of our trandtional ways. We may one day not know what hmoob is or what is hmong because today we can’t speak hmoob. . . .

  2. Many Hmong organization now was run by the young generation and they are not knowing who they are. Birthday cake is not a tool to teach the Hmong Community regarding of learning the hmong tradditional or culture. It will not give us anything or mean anything to my Hmong people. I strongly ugring that this Hmong American Partnership organization that they should have a better way of preserved Hmong not giving a cake to Ms. Vang and give a good word to the national. This waste our tax payer money for this organization.

  3. I personally want to thank April Moua for her dedication in keeping the culture alive. We need more people like her who took every opportunity whether it’s in school, home, or with friends and chose to speaking Hmong rather than English. Kudos to April Moua. Keep up the good work. You must be a good cooker too.


  4. Contrary to people attempting to make the issue of Hmong cultural extinction a hot button and fear mongering issue in our community…it’s actually NOT true!

    Throughout our Hmong history, we have NEVER had the kind of freedom and latitude to fully express our culture, our language, religious views, our political views, our every essence as a people…as we do NOW in this country. In fact, our culture has NEVER seen such growth, such diversity, such creativity, such progress and advancement, as we do NOW. Today, we are able to research, record, study, travel, teach and learn, and do all the things to preserve, protect, and pass down our culture to the next generation…which we were NOT able to do in the past!

    All you have to do is attend the next Hmong wedding, the next Hmong New Year, the next Hmong funeral, the next Hmong celebration of any kind…and you will see that the Hmong culture, however you define it, is alive and well….more so than ANY other time in our entire history!

  5. I lived in Merced Ca. for several years and bought a beautiful hand woven Hmong storyteller vest their. Does anyone have information about them?

  6. what my parents have always been telling me as a teen. “you are an 18 yr old girl. we are in america now so we live their ways. but just because we live in America, does not mean you should learn all their ways. Remeber, YOU ARE STILL HMONG. you can choose to do whatever you want to, but make the right choices…”

         BACK TO THE POINT: Hmong traditions are more and more dying out. It’s hard to learn the Hmong culture ways in THIS environment when we are away from our country (laos). But also, In America… there are standards that are needed to be met for a good life. i believe that every hmong person would love to learn the history of their people but at the same time its hard because they are busy with school, work, or taking care of the family. Every year we still have the Hmong New Yr. to keep our Culture alive and remind people that WE are hmong and we still do honor our culture.

         I HOPE THAT MAKES SENSE! love the article by the way… very very very TRUE

  7. I am Hmong and I love the culture however I believe in Christ and God. I immerse myself in both culture and my personal beliefs. It is not ignorance that brings me to believe in God, in fact it is the opposite of ignorance. Christians do not push their religions into other people’s faces. We simply believe our beliefs are true and should be shared.

  8.  I am not aware of anyone person’s sole beliefs. I feel that we all have difderent outlooks on life…How we got here, Where we are and where we are going. Tis does not make us any different as humans. I feel and think we all want the same thing in life. So because we have different views does not mean we are any different. We have more in common with others, maybe then we realize. I find differences in people all the time. This is very interesting to me. I hope I am interesting to other pople as well…even people from my own culture. I am not set in my ways and I want to learn more about the world around me and the people that are in it. We are all together we should not find things to seperate ourselves…just because we may be veiwing the world through a different shade of eye glasses….Thank you for reading this…and I wish happiness and some sort of peace for all of us…..Melody

  9. Wow. I am really late to this, but doing my researches about Hmong history etc.  This is why Hmong people are still unknown.  Religion should not be causing Hmong to hate Hmong.  We are lucky enough to be here in the U.S. today to have many freedoms including religious freedom.  I agree that no matter what religion you believe in, you will still be Hmong at the end of the day.  It is obviously because you are Hmong blooded.  However, we should not hate at each other due to different religious beliefs.  Yes, I also agree too, that we, the “Hmong people SHOULD turn to Christ, our God”.  I am a Christian as well, but I have the right to say this because of freedom, and saying this is only my opinion and belief being expressed.  If anyone disagrees, I still accept or respect you for who you are because we are all of the same kind anyway, and we are not perfect.  Of course I want people to all become Christians because I discovered a path that I, in MY belief/opinion know is best for all.  I would never force you to believe in my beliefs, but I would recommend it.  That is all.  Jeez, my Hmong people; triple check yourself-plus.  You are hating at your own kind, so how will Hmong people grow more in positive and successful popularity??? Fact we Hmong need most is unconditional LOVE for each other. 

  10. If people look more closely, yes this new generation is adapted to the American ways  more now, but there are still some who keeps their tradition.  I keep the Hmong language because it is a part of me and I can socialize with those who do not know English.  English is learned in many places so that is why it is important to learn it, and it also will be good for education in US since it is a state containing most freedom!  

  11. I certainly think if the Hmong parents would step up their game and do their job, this wouldn’t happen. Even though America have all these wonderful opportunities for you, that does not give you the right to forget who you really are.

  12. Your right cake is the solution for happiness. The answer should be Jesus. If you have a PHD or Master Degree but don’t know GOD, your not educated. If you are rich with lots of money or even if you have nice big house and expensive car but you don’t know GOD then your are not rich at all. Help spead the word of GOD to our hmong brothers and sisters. We are hmong no matter what. GOD created us that way. Don’t let the culture stop you from building a relationship with GOD. He loves each and everyone of us. God Bless the person who is reading this.

  13. How ignorant are you to make such claims that people’s lives are less worthy or fulfilling without your God? That is the most uneducated statement I’ve ever heard. You are so blinded by your so-called beliefs and your desire to be assimilated into mainstream America that you force your religion onto others and look down on those who are loyal and true to their belief system. Might I also remind you that our founding fathers were Deists. So, for future reference, don’t post ridiculous messages because there is nothing worst than an uneducated statement.

    Moving forward, in agreement with this article, the Hmong culture is slowly fading. In my personal observing, many young Hmong adults and teenagers are choosing not to speak the language or learn about the history of the culture – and, it saddens me to see that there are an increasing number of young Hmong adults and teenagers who have even started to deny the fact that they are Hmong.

    It’s ridiculous that there is such a divide in the Hmong community today, and this surreal belief that if they speak English clearly and believe in the divinity of God they are “better” than the rest of the Hmong community members who hold onto traditional beliefs. Well, for all those youths, and enabling parents, who prefer to speak English only, here’s a quick reality check – this world is operating on an international level. Meaning, those who speak English only are the past. The future is bilingualism – at the minimum. Having the ability to read and write in a different language opens the doors of opportunity in the business and political world. Plus, having the ability to read, write, and speak a different language shows potential employers that you are open-minded – instead of this narrow-minded bible reading want to be.

    Lastly, to be unable to speak your own language or uneducated about your own cultural background will really reduce the richness of your life – and, no matter how much you try to change your looks, no matter how much you believe in “God”, or how well you speak English you’re still HMONG at the end of the day – and that’s how the rest of the world will see you.

    By the way, how dumb is it that you’re Hmong but you don’t know anything about your cultural background or how to speak Hmong. That’s like being American and not knowing how to speak English. Idiots!

  14. I agree kabao…what you said in this comment makes perfect sense…I try so hard to keep my culture in depths…and as hard and confusing as our culture is, I enjoy learning it…It is the best memories that I share with my family and friends…from all the required manners to lost memories of laos and all the things in between excites me…

  15. I believe you misunderstand the person you are insulting. He did not say he or anyone is better than anyone for believing in God.  He was simply saying it is better to believe and trust in God.  It like saying it is better to eat vegetables than to eat candy.  Also, the vast majority of the founding fathers were Christian. In fact a large number of the signers were pastors of churches and theologians.  

    Also, I find that people often get interested in learning their roots when they become Christian.  I know of a scientist who was a non-practicing Jew, then he became a Christian and now is a practicing (Messianic) Jew (celebrating Chanukkah, Yom Kippur, wearing a tallit and kippah, etc.) and (to add) a young-earth creationist (he didn’t believe in creationism right away, but only after studying and testing it scientifically).  I have actually been studying on my ancestry and culture.  I am told I am a descendant of Hernando Cortes.

    On that comment you made that they don’t speak Hmong, how do you know?  Did you ask if they speak Hmong?  Did they tell you?  Also, there are many people in my church in particular who are at least biligual.  I know of some who speak Bangla, many Spanish (since that is common in my region), some know an African language or more.

    Anyway, for anyone who doesn’t know: the movie Grand Torino actually showcases Hmong culture.  I don’t know Hmong culture, but i assume they chose to be accurate.  The only comedy in those scenes were how Clint Eastwood’s character reacted to the Hmong people.

  16. As a Christian and World Citizen, I offer my humble apology for the above personsw comments. Christ opreached love of the poor and disenfranchised. I strongly admire the Hmong as a civilizatioon that I wish I could help more. I am of Hungarian American heritage but recognize your tremendous tenacity and strength and courage. Peace be with you.

  17. any hmong person will tell you that gran torino inaccurately depicted the Hmong people, there was so much BS in that movie, i dont think any of the Hmong actors will get a role in any legit Hmong movies, and lets not even get started on their acting…

    btw saying “it is better to believe and trust in God.  It like saying it is better to eat vegetables than to eat candy” is ignorant, your pretty much saying “Cristianity is better and everyone should be Christian, just because I think so”. this is “one” reason i “dislike” Christian people.

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